How Soy May Help Avoid Menopausal Weight Gain

Adding soy phytoestrogens to a regular diet may aid weight loss according to new research.


Do you get confused about the apparently conflicting advice relating to menopause – or in fact anything to do with health? Well, here’s a newsflash: I have been writing about health for over 30 years and I still get confused, particularly when research seems to contradict something I already know.

Research presented at the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviour – which I suspect is something to do with food or at least what we put into our bodies – has recently reported that a diet rich in soy prevents weight gain in post-menopausal female rats.

Now I have nothing against soy, indeed it’s extremely helpful for many women during menopause and some find it particularly good for hot flashes, but it’s the reasoning behind the claim that has puzzled me. They are saying that previous research suggests that reduced levels of the hormone oestrogen during menopause are responsible for the increased body weight and abdominal fat often experienced by postmenopausal women.

As oestrogen is the hormone responsible for adding to our womanly curves I am not quite following the logic here. They do admit that while oestrogen replacement therapies can reduce weight gain, they also have unwelcome side effects, prompting a search for alternative methods of treatment.

Now, as I understand it, women continue to make oestrogen during menopause to compensate for the lack of it from the ovaries. It is made from our adrenal glands and from fat cells, so that a small amount of weight gain at menopause is nature’s way of making up for any deficiency.

We’re back to balance, as menopause is the time when some weight gain will be helpful so dieting frantically is not the answer, as being ultra-slim will not have health benefits in the long run. Of course being a seriously overweight isn’t healthy either and what these researchers have found (in postmenopausal rats) is decreased body weight and increased energy expenditure after adding soy phytoestrogens to their regular diet.

One of the researchers, Michelle Murphy from the Monell Chemical Senses Center, Philadelphia, commented “These results have implications for the development of alternative natural treatments for obesity in post-menopausal women. The results of this study highlight the need for further research into the actions of phytoestrogens on food intake in humans to determine the more long-term effects of consuming a soy-rich diet. In this world of an ever-increasing obesity epidemic, finding natural dietary solutions and treatments to combat obesity are of the utmost importance both to worldwide health and the economy.”

Well, obesity is certainly not confined to postmenopausal women and concentrating solely on phytoestrogens is, I think, not really the answer. By all means add soy to your diet but remember that soy products themselves are not necessarily slimming and it might be better instead to focus on improving your overall diet and that old tried and true method of regular, enjoyable, exercise.